Gog and Magog

The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal’” (vv. 1–3).

- Ezekiel 38

No one can doubt the popularity in our day of reading the Bible alongside the newspaper, looking for how God’s message to Ezekiel, Daniel, and John (Revelation) is coming true in our lifetime. Books that “unlock the secrets of the end times” sell millions of copies, and who could count the number of conferences each year that purport to reveal how the Bible predicts current events? Few if any evangelicals in America question the propriety of this approach. However, to be faithful to what Scripture actually teaches, we must ask this question: is the Bible a code book whose meaning is determined by today’s headlines?

Largely because the Hebrew term rosh (“chief”) in verse 1 sounds similar to the name Russia, many people today believe that Ezekiel 38 predicts modern Russia’s rise and influence. Yet we must reject this interpretation because the nation of Russia did not exist in Ezekiel’s day. If the passage had no meaning to its original audience, we could twist and shape its interpretation like a wax nose. Gog is the name of a leader of the land of Magog, the prince of Meshech and Tubal, territories named after Noah’s grandsons (Gen. 10:1–2). We cannot identify these areas precisely, but Ezekiel likely has in view the peoples to the far north of the land of Israel in modern-day Turkey and beyond. The Jews of Ezekiel’s day had never met these mysterious nations who lived beyond the boundaries of their known world.

Ezekiel foresaw a day when Meshech and Tubal would join with two other northern powers—Gomer and Beth-togarmah—and the four would form an alliance with Persia, Cush, and Put, which were three powers to the far south or southeast of the Promised Land (Ezek. 38:3–6). The number seven typically indicates completeness in Scripture, so what we have here is a prophecy that the full number of nations beyond the borders of Israel would one day rise up against the people of God. Although a lust for money and power would motivate these nations, the Lord’s hand would be working in their advance. He would raise up these nations for the purpose of revealing His own holiness and greatness (vv. 7–23). In sum, Yahweh would defeat these powers to reveal to them that He alone is God.

The prophet said this would occur after the restoration of Israel, when His people “dwell securely (v. 14). This means that Israel’s restoration to peace and safety would not be accomplished all at once, that some peoples of the world would not know the Lord at the start of the restoration. As they rose up against God’s people, however, they would meet Him.

Coram Deo

Given the symbolism of the passage, we must see it not only as a prediction of the final battle between God and the enemies of His people but also a vision of the encounter between new covenant Israel—the church—and the Lord’s chosen. For two thousand years, God’s enemies have tried to destroy the church, only to find themselves converted to Him. When people come against the Lord, their plans will be thwarted, either in their salvation or in their defeat and destruction.

Passages for Further Study

Isaiah 66:18–19
Ezekiel 39
Romans 15:8–13
Revelation 20:7–10

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